the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese

6.4 Years of Experience and The 35 Year Age Limit Theory

Experience is valued in the computer industry, as it is in other fields. Whenever one receives orders or when one is transferred to another company, he or she is asked his/her years of experience in the field. No one is considered first class in the computer industry without more than ten years of experience. It seems to be that one starts being recognized as an expert after the first ten years.

On the other hand, some people say that there is a limit to the age that one can work as a software engineer -- that being 35 years of age. It is a view that says that software engineers must be young. It says that you must be young in order to keep up with the rapid progress in the field.

Change in the field of programming is so fast that the programming language that one used to use everyday may become obsolete. In that case, the programmer has to learn a new language. If the programmer can't use a new language he/she just has to be thrown away himself.

The problem that we are facing now is what to do with programmers that can write programs only in COBOL (a language for business applications) or FORTRAN (a language for scientific calculation). The demand for these languages is getting smaller and smaller. COBOL programmers used to be the majority of the programming population until quite recently. Due to the development of databases, there is almost no need for them now. If these programmers want to continue being programmers, they have to learn a more popular language.

Large Japanese firms are very kind to these programmers. Even though the firms know that there is no demand for these programmers, they fabricate unnecessary jobs to use COBOL, just for the programmers. And while they do this, they teach database languages and C (a new programming language).

I can't understand why they do such a foolish thing. It is a common phenomenon that programming languages become obsolete. It used to be said that COBOL, in particluar, would soon become so.

If one has pride in being a software engineer, he/she should be able to use several languages. If the programmer is unable to learn a new language, he/she should retire. The person is no longer a programmer. He/she should work in a museum of computer archeology or somewhere else.

This is Japan. Although many people say all kinds of things, it is still a country of lifetime employment. Once an employee is hired as a software engineer, the company must hire him/her as one until retirement.

The development of robots and automation is remarkable. This is due to the advancement of computers. But because of this, many people have lost their jobs or have been obliged to change jobs. In particular, the large number of laborers that used to build electric machines have become unnecessary.

The number of humans that manipulate machines in order to manufacture products has decreased sigificantly. Now, automated machine tools produce mechanical and electronic parts. There are many factories that are run by machines 24 hours a day. It used to be common to buy cigarettes at a store, but now you usually buy some from an automatic vending machine.

Due to the development of computers, some jobs have vanished or changed, and some have appeared. Everyone is influenced one way or another.

And yet, why is it that programmers, who stand closest to computers, can't keep up with the times.

Experience is valuable in some ways.

Not everything functions as expected. You can't do anything without knowing the exceptions. You are bound to make mistakes without the knowledge. It is not announced, and it is not published. This knowledge is gained through experience.

Human networks are also important. Personal connections, one may say. Personal connections are absolutely necessary if you want to get a job. Not only that, since change is rapid in the computer industry, it is impossible to collect necessary information just on your own.

When you need information, you need someone you can feel free to ask -- programming partners, technical partners. Although the brilliant tend to be with the brilliant, and the not so brilliant tend to be with the not so brilliant, partners are absolutely necessary. When you work for a small company, you should be careful. You might become short-sighted, and you may soon become unaware of the world around you.

"Valuing years of experience" and the "35 year age limit theory". I don't think neither of these views is absolutely true. People are caught within these two inconsistent views. You should ignore both of them. It is the able who are able. The two views are for the people who can't make up there minds on their own.

Copyright 1996, 1999 Hirofumi Fujiwara. Translated by K.T.
No reproduction or republication without written permission.

the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese